Okay, I’ve been cleaning up scads of email thus all these Intersection posts today.

Here’s another, this one from January while listening to jazz on one of my many Missouri road trips.

Listening to jazz, I think “urban music”.  It’s very angular.  Like the lines of a city’s buildings and streets.  Concentrated, like the density of buildings, structures.  Even cultures, how different cultures are packed into cities.  And because of that you’ve got to be compact.  You need to fit, to be able to squeeze everything in.  Yeah, rhythm allows it to all jiggle in.  Playful.  What is that Portuguese word used in Brazil for the skill to be able to make deals take place, jecinho?  My Portuguese dictionary is stashed in one of the book boxes waiting to move to 2708 Arsenal.

Miles Davis.  Here’s one of his coolest cuts courtesy of YouTube, Blue in green.

Hey.  Here’s a story of how one city has fared after a terrible disaster.

I could be but am not referring to Joplin MO or 9/11 New York City.  It’s New Orleans in Gary Rivlin’s new book Katrina:  After the Flood reviewed earlier this month by the NY Times.

Lance Hill, a white political activist serving as a mole, tells Rivlin: “It was impossible not to pick up on this sentiment that this was our chance to take back control of the city. There was virtually a near consensus among whites that authorities should not do anything to make it easy for poor African-Americans to come back.”

It looks worth a read.

In my work in post-2011 tornado Joplin it’s become clear that developers are not interested in replacing lost housing with affordable low cost rental units.  This is creating some problems.  Where do low-income households go?  They have doubled and tripled up in housing to be able to afford it.  Moved away.  Become homeless.

Sometimes when a city gets a hard knock, opportunity knocks for urban socio-economic engineering that makes life harder for the poor.

school stalls

I’ve seen this before.

The issue really isn’t the buildings.  It’s “decades of declining enrollment … as students have left for the suburbs and charter schools”.  St Louis is not unique.  More famously, Detroit has been going through this.  And other American cities.  At its peak in 1967 St Louis public school enrollment was 115,543.  Current enrollment is 26,000.  A 77% drop.

Elisa Crouch’s St Louis Post-Dispatch article reports that 45 buildings have been closed in the last 10 years leaving 74 in use.

St Louis hopes to interest buyers to take and repurpose some of these closed school buildings.

With the superiority of naval air power came the end of battleships.  Streaming has replaced the phonograph.  Obsolescence is part of humanity’s modern project.  Urban systems and infrastructures have a rough time dealing with obsolescence.  What to do with 21 old buildings?


NY Times recently featured abandoned cars as a New York memory.  148,257 of these cars were removed in 1988.  In 2013?  2,156.

1980’s west side Chicago featured an abandoned car next door to the entrance of our Salvation Army building on West Madison Street at Ogden.  It was, to say the least, an unsavory stretch of Madison.  Leaving the building at night usually meant witnessing some sex business in progress in that abandoned car.

During the early part of this millennium in Detroit it seemed every burning abandoned car contained a body.  What fascinated me was the amount of parts sitting on expressways which had fallen off cars.  Fenders, quarter panels, parts from under the hood.  Detritus.  It made for challenging driving combined with crumbling concrete pavement,  broken traffic signals, dead dogs, and non functioning street lights.

I am glad for NYC.  Detroit drivers, keep your eyes open.

The New York Times Sunday Book Review recently featured Walker Percy’s theory of hurricanes, that “people felt better in hurricanes” and other “bad environments” rather than in good ones.

This rings true for me.

I was depressed in 1987 after three years of work in inner city Chicago.  Then on an October Monday morning (19th) Pam Ferguson called me at home to say that the building next door had fallen on our Temple Corps.  It had indeed.  The court ordered demolition had gone bad and two-thirds of the eastern section, the oldest, of our building was destroyed by tons of bricks from the tall derelict being used for heroin fixes and prostitution.  My attention, focus, energies were now engaged.  It could be said that I was now living life to the full.

It was a slap in the face.  And it made me well.

Is this what it means to be living a ‘this-worldly’ life?

Keith Clements describes Bonhoeffer’s this-worldliness as a “theological perspective in which the created world, including the human, is a world that God loves in all its creatureliness, and to which God comes.”

How does God come?  The answer is “just as you did it to one of the least … you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).  God comes to us.  We then have a choice.  Bonhoeffer’s poem Christians and Heathens makes this distinction even more clear.  All humans cry out to God for help.  But the Christian sees and goes to help those who hunger, thirst.  Who sit alone, unprotected, sick, alienated.  They cry out wordlessly and God comes to them, not in some mystical experience though I will not discount the rare occurrence.  God comes to them in us.  And we find God in them.  This is the message of Christians and Heathens.

True, ‘bad environments’ offer a therapeutic experience.  And, as Walker Percy suggests, such places may have universal appeal and effect on people.  You have experienced it if you’ve lived in a big city preparing for an approaching blizzard.  A theory of hurricanes resonates with Bonhoeffer’s call to the this-worldly life.

I’ll close with John Keble.  My Detroit days were an experience very close to my 1987 frame of mind, but they were days based on life experience which allowed me to balance dismay with engagement.  Two verses of Keble apocalyptically opened my view on the kingdom of God.

If on our daily course our mind, be set to hallow all we find,  new treasures still of countless price, God will provide for sacrifice.

The trivial round, the common task, will furnish all we ought to ask, room to deny ourselves, a road, to bring us daily nearer God.

Walker Percy

I was in Joplin MO last Friday morning for the grand opening of a brand-spanking new Salvation Army store just a block east of Main Street in downtown Joplin.

This new store replaces another new store a couple miles south on Main Street that was destroyed on May 22, 2011 during the tornado which devastated Joplin.

That store had only been completed the month before as a replacement to an older store.  I’ve seen photos of the destroyed store.  The tornado had dropped someone’s pickup truck (or was it a small box truck?) in the middle of the store.  An operation made possible because the store’s roof was completely gone.  The rest of the store looked like a battlefield casualty.

For the last four years the Army has made do at a nearby temporary rental location while construction and financing plans were put together.  Our beautiful new store joins several Joplin Public Schools facilities and the new Mercy Hospital among this year’s additions to Joplin’s rebuilding efforts.  Here are articles from Wally Kennedy and Emily Younker of the Joplin Globe about this new store.

At the grand opening I was asked to pray during the ribbon cutting.  I wanted my words to express how out of terror and loss God has come to bless the Army with hope and promise.

Not only for The Salvation Army, but for the city of Joplin.

Today a New York Times article reports on what appears to be a revival of Asbury Park NJ.  So you can say that this blog is about the resurrection of cities.

The word ‘revival’ sounds religious, doesn’t it?  Bruce Springsteen appears to be the prophet, evangelist for the Asbury Park revival.

This summer, Mr. Springsteen took note of the city’s changing fortunes during a performance at Asbury’s Wonder Bar. As he introduced another song, “Atlantic City,” he said, “But maybe everything that dies someday comes back.” He paused for a moment, before continuing, “Maybe Asbury Park is back?” — to cheers from the crowd.

The Times noted The Boss’ My City of Ruins.  NYT call it a dirge.  To me it sounds like an urban prophet’s prayer.  Is it a prophecy that is now coming to pass?

Half ways through the Times’ article it dawned that the Salvation Army is in Asbury Park.  That to Salvation Army people it is a prominent presence.  The Asbury Park Corps is a place with history, tradition, staying power.  Officer friends have served there.  Visit its website.  You’ll see a listing of activities, services, photos of the currently assigned Officers.

Does the Army have a prophetic voice in Asbury Park?

Prophets of the OT cried out and cried over deserted places and hearts.  Prophets also gave words of promise and hope.

A developer is breathing life into old bones as renovation is taking place of a building, “a long vacant Salvation Army residence hall into a chic, 110-room hotel with a rooftop event space”.


The Salvation Army continues to have staying power in some tough urban places.  Our friends Majors Bill and Sue Dunigan (check their Servant Corps Facebook) lead a missional community, the Servant Corps in Camden NJ,  80 miles west of Asbury Park.  I believe that the Servant Corps, like our St Louis Temple Houses, represents new life breathed into the bones of an organization, a movement.  A 150 year old movement.

It’s great to see old buildings with cleaned up bricks and new purpose.  But it’s even greater to see life breathed into a movement.  And the Army still needs more of this breath of renewal.

Here in St Louis two old Salvation Army buildings were not sold to developers.  We kept them.  And the Army itself became a developer. We renovated the Railton Residence and the former Harbor Light (that once was the Father Dunne Newsboy Home) into the 3010 Apartments.

They are now modern, attractive places that continue to serve the people we have always kept our commitment to serve.

But the Army in St Louis is now a community developer.  Yes, we are bringers of salvation to individuals.  But now we also bring salvation to communities and to a city.

Old Salvation Army buildings.

The Salvation Army building in my hometown is now serving another purpose.  Last time I stopped in to see the Duluth Citadel built in 1929 it was looking good and being used as a rental hall for social events.  Perhaps hosting a singer of songs.

One last story.

My first corps appointment was to Gary IN during the early 1980s when US Steel dramatically reduced its workforce.  The result was steelworkers out of a job living in their cars.  Families appearing at the Salvation Army for food and utility assistance.

I also remember teen boys showing up every Friday night for basketball in our little gym.  It got so that I had to schedule shifts to share the gym.  The growing crowd of young men would patiently wait along the sidelines for their turn.  They didn’t have many other options.  We had the best show in town.

One group of guys were Springsteen disciples.  Morgan, Steve, Fish.  They introduced me to The Boss.  Born In the USA.

Bruce Springsteen.  Still crying out over cities.  Still preaching resurrection.

“Now, the government has embarked on an ambitious plan to make Beijing the center of a new supercity of 130 million people.”

The New York Times reports on the proposed Jing-Jin-Ji.  It’s population of six times the size of New York City will cover an area the size of Kansas.

imageChina has been pushing an aggressive agenda of massing its people into new urban configurations.  But as it pushes its primarily rural peasant population to move into cities, it’s created upheaval.


Move, change, upheaval.  Is this unique?  Not entirely.  This brings to mind America’s urban story.  Our cities grew as 19th and early 20th century European immigrants arrived.  African-Americans moved northward to Chicago and Detroit when their factory workers went off to 20th century world wars.  Since the late 20th century gentrification has been changing the face of many neighborhoods.  Resulting in increasing diversity in the suburbs.

But unique to China is the formal, controlled and massive way it’s taking place.

Will Chinese economic-social goals be achieved in this forced-march?  Or will the cost to its humanity outweigh benefits to China’s business?


I posted a couple weeks ago about Susan Herberg’s article in a recent St Louis American about her journey away from white privilege.

The next day Gail pointed out that the St Louis Business Journal’s recent issue featuring millennials also dealt with privilege.

The millennial generation is supposed to operate certain ways as far as work style preferences, values, lifestyles, etc.  And, of course, the business world is finding ways to work millennials into its business plans.

Gail sees one problem about all this interest.  There is one large population of young adults not so concerned about flexible hours, a dedicated mentor, work from home, etc.  They just want a job.

There are a lot of American young adults across St Louis, Detroit, Chicago, Midwestern small towns, immigrant neighborhoods who want a job but are not finding one.

Gym reimbursement?

One evening during all the media attention on the Greek financial crisis I listened to Kai Ryssdal on KWMU reporting for Marketplace from Athens.  People he interviewed?  not happy.  But one man seemed less concerned about being unhappy and more concerned about having a job.  The jobless rate of young adults in Greece is 53.2%.

We are happy in America that our jobless rate is not as bad.

But if you have been trying to, and yet can’t find a job, it’s bad.

This morning I read this article by Susan Herberg, a St Louisan, who is “not going to shut up”.

Susan wrote in this week’s issue of the St Louis American of the St Louis Language Immersion School her daughter attends.  A leadership transition is now taking place at the SLLIS.  Susan takes strong exception with where the school is headed.

What caught my attention in her article:

  • a journey away from white privilege that has brought her from comfortable suburb to the rich diversity of life in St Louis’ Tower Grove East neighborhood. I know where that is, just west of Benton Park West, home of the Urban Mission Center.  And where Gail and I are headed in a few weeks (yes! it really is happening; July 27 is the move date).
  • SLLIS brings “students of all backgrounds together in a public charter school … using the innovative inquiry-based teaching curriculum of the International Baccalaureate program”.  Our daughter Kirsten also had the IB experience, a challenging and rich one.
  • “two old white guys .. and now my prejudice is showing.  I have had it with old white guys…”  Susan, is this just a prejudicial ranting?  or is there more to this than your article says?  I know you want Rhonda Broussard “our transformative, inspirational leader back”.  You write “if you see her, tell her she is an amazing person for bringing this school to life.”  Now I want to know more about what is happening at the SLLIS.

A neighbor-to-be.  An educational approach I believe is excellent.  And two old white guys.  Moving this month into the city has me looking.



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